Simple And Effective Food Photography Techniques

One of my photography niches is food photography. It started awhile back when a friend asked me if I could shoot for his restaurant. It seems that many photography businesses started just like that, with a friend asking a shoot, or acknowledging a talent.

Food Photography

We all need to start somewhere, so this article shows a very simple yet effective food photography technique using only one or two lights. While simple, it is very effective and I still use this technique when shooting for clients today.

The Setup

With food photography you want to show textures in your food, so the best way to show texture in the food is by placing your light to the side or the back of your subject. Normally I place my light (a studio strobe) at 45 degrees to the back of the subject through a softbox. At the opposite side I place another studio strobe set on lower power. Lastly, I sometimes place a silver reflector, or a mirror to fill in the shadows.

I normally use a 24-70 lens for the job and on rare occasions I use a macro lens. I shoot at around f5.6-f8, and very close to the subject, but I still get a shallow depth of field.

Normally my setup for food photography is very similar to this

Main light at 45 degrees back to the subject; Fill in light 45 degrees at the opposite side of the main light (with either softbox, reflector or mirror)

For a clean white look I would normally use Construction paper to create a seamless look.

For a clean white look I would normally use Construction paper to create a seamless look.

Or I would use a big illustration board for my table.

Or I would use a big illustration board for my table.

I use those illustration boards quite a bit and you can read more about them here.

The clean, on-white, look would look something like this.

On White Shrimp

 

On White Dessert

Aside from the clean on white look, I like to play with the background by using textured surfaces or placing cloth in the background to get textures.

For this shot there was a woven chair in the place where we were shooting, so I used it as my table.

For this shot there was a woven chair in the place where we were shooting, so I used it as my table.

Woven Background Pie

Example of the woven chair for the background

Woven Background

I also like to use cloth in the background to get some textures.

Example of using cloth in the background

Example of using cloth in the background

Cloth Background Salad

But if you frame right, you can probably use almost anything to provide either texture or context. In this photo I used a brick grill to provide a hint of context through the background.

Brick Oven Background

Brick Oven Background

If you are shooting in a restaurant, make sure to eye the place, chances are that you will have quite a lot of options for subtle or interesting backgrounds, like tables, table cloth, stacks of things in the kitchen and so on.

Textured background inside the restaurant

Textured background inside the restaurant

The last trick I wanted to mention is using flame to make your BBQ shots stand out a bit more, I still use the same lighting for this kind of shot. I use rubbing alcohol to create the flame, and dragged my shutter to get a good exposure on the flame.

Setup Shot for BBQ Shot

Setup Shot for BBQ Shot

BBQ Shot using real flame

BBQ Shot using real flame

This is it, it is the same basic lighting principles that we apply and you don’t

  • Cesar de Miranda

    Great work with the lighting. A lot of food photographer are telling me only use natural light. You just made my day with this tutorial. Can you tell me which lens you recommend and settings is best to use for these shots? Thanks for sharing